CN: Generally terrible and abusive behavior towards people across the queer community.
On August 11th The Daily Beast published an article that was basically a straight man ogling the cruising culture of gay and bisexual men at the Olympics. There was no particular point to the article other than heterosexual fascination with the sexuality of queer athletes. In the process he outed several of these men, giving enough information to easily identify some of them, without caring if their careers, families, or lives may be threatened by being outed. Many writers have responded to this article with outrage, including Greta Christina here on The Orbit, leading to Daily Beast eventually taking it down, but of course nothing ever really goes away on the internet.
Last weekend a transgender performer called Valentine Steaphon was kicked out of a New York gay bar after a cis woman complained about her using the women’s bathroom. Steaphon says the security at the bar told her “Well we cater to straight women here,” which is not likely to be a big shock to anyone who has attended a drag show in a gay bar recently. Cishet women are a huge part of the audience for these shows, and bars have increasingly geared their businesses towards that audience.
In fact, many people in the queer world have discussed the increasing prominence of cishet people in gay bars, at Pride events, and on hook-up apps. Those articles are only a tiny taste of the huge number of pieces out there about all of the ways cishet people are invading queer spaces.
There are lots of reasons that people give for coming into queer spaces. They say they are coming to Pride to be supportive of gay rights, that they are going to gay bars to see a fun show, that they are going on Grindr to make friends. Some cishet women are going to gay bars so that they can feel safer from the bad behavior of cishet men which I find pretty understandable, though unfortunately this mostly just draws those cishet men into the bars too. However, there seem to be other reasons for this in many cases.
For example, one of my favorite bars when I lived in Wisconsin is a men’s bar, definitely not a dance club style place, with a clientele that is mostly over 35 and pretty masculine in presentation. As far as I know they have never hosted a drag show, but they do sponsor a rugby team and host nights themed for leather, bears, and boxer shorts. The primary activity there besides cruising and drinking is shooting pool. Women are allowed in this bar, but it isn’t a space intended for them. I’ve brought friends who are are queer women in there for a drink and chat before, and it’s always been fine. I went there several times on my own, and several times with my boyfriend. Almost every Friday or Saturday night that I was there something uncomfortable happened – a bachelorette party showed up.
These parties, sometimes containing as many members as there were guys in the bar at the time, came in loud and got louder. They put pop music on the jukebox, danced around the pool table, and got in the way of the bar. The entire vibe of the bar changed completely and immediately. Straight bachelorette parties are basically a celebration of het sexuality – a fine thing in itself but not really appropriate for a bar specifically intended for decidedly homo sexuality. Quietly, but within only minutes, the men all finished our drinks, settled our tabs, and left. My boyfriend and I went for a walk around downtown, where teenagers shouted after us as we held hands. When alone, I went home.
We didn’t just leave because the vibe of our bar had vanished, but because we sense that they are there to gawk. They’re there so they can go to work on Monday and gush about how their weekend was “Totally wild!” because they went to a gay bar. Impinging on gay space seems exotic and exciting, a step into some seedy underbelly. The idea that their loud presence completely alters the environment never seems to occur to them.
Queer spaces are not a zoo here for the viewing pleasure of the cishet public. Our bars and hook-up apps aren’t there to titillate and excite cishet journalists at the Olympics or cishet women out for a night on the town. These spaces are for us to have our own communities, do our own flirting, have our own drinks. Even Pride, which is literally a show on display, isn’t there for the cishet audience. It is our own community celebrating our lives and our culture, while also sometimes pushing for our civil rights and inclusion in society.
For any privileged group, it feels threatening to some people to have something exist that belongs to a minority groups. When someone is used to having dominant access to every space, each space that just isn’t intended for them feels like something is being taken away. The situation is even more contentious when a space is specifically and exclusively designated for a minority group – such as women-only spaces, or spaces only for people of color. It makes sense that cishet folks would want to come in and take up space in queer places and on queer apps – it feels like reclaiming privileged access to something they feel excluded from.
I want queer spaces to be safe for queer people. I want us people to be able to use whatever bathroom is right for us in our bars. I want us to be able to use hook up apps without being outed on an international platform. I want to be able to go out to a bar with my boyfriend without feeling like we’re being made into the entertainment for a bachelorette party.
So, cishet folks, stay off our apps. Behave yourselves at Pride. Don’t police the bathrooms anywhere, but especially not in queer spaces. If you go to a queer bar think about why, really, you are choosing to go there and examine if that is really respectful and appropriate. Remember that you are in a space that does not belong to you, and behave appropriately. If there are more of you than there are of us, or if cishet folks are taking up more physical or auditory space, go somewhere else. And crucially, encourage better behavior in your friends. Friends don’t let friends crash a queer bar.